Surely our brother’s keeper . . .

VOICEOFREASONTwo months ago, Barbados experienced a series of earthquakes that rattled a country unaccustomed to such. Barbados is also an island that has been spared the brunt of many a major natural disaster for several decades.

Two weeks ago, we watched as Dominica was hit by Tropical Storm Erika, leaving thousands displaced and some 21 people dead.

In last week’s column, I expressed my sorrow, condolences and best wishes for Dominica. This week I wish to both think on the questions Dominica raises for us as Barbadians but perhaps more importantly at this moment, to consider what we are doing and what more we can do to assist.

First, an inward look. The sequence of natural disasters in the past months begs the question: how ready are we for a natural disaster whether an unlikely earthquake, or even the more likely hurricane and perhaps how do we as a nation take the steps to fortify ourselves?   

Very often preparedness is focused at the community level, with homeowners encouraged to secure homes and procure supplies to survive the storm. However, I am not convinced that national efforts are enough to ensure we are in a position to be able to rebuild if indeed we are severely affected by a storm.

One of the most essential components of protection against the uncontrollable effects of a natural disaster is insurance. In the current times of economic strain, Barbadians may not be able to afford home insurance. This could lead to scenario where Barbados is hit by a natural disaster, homes are damaged but rebuilding is nigh impossible in the absence of insurance.

Perhaps a solution is for the Government to provide a tax relief for homeowners who insure their homes, thus increasing the chance of individuals viewing insurance as an affordable option.

An improvement of communication systems would be imperative, as well as ensuring that it is an adequate and pragmatic framework for collective messaging. In the age of social media, it is very easy for misinformation to be more widely and quickly spread than official word, a scenario which we saw play out with the aforementioned earthquakes that affected the island.

These individual strategies must fall within larger conversations and actions regarding climate change, including mitigation and adaptation strategies. Our Ministry of the Environment is well placed to lead the charge at a national level at a time when the country is paying close attention.

At the global level, strategies including The 2007 Bali Action Plan called for the development of “risk management and risk reduction strategies, including risk sharing and transfer mechanisms such as insurance”. These risk-sharing and transfer mechanisms cannot simply happen at the individual level, but must be shared among states.

It is imperative that Barbados and other Caribbean islands make disaster preparedness and environmental issues more broadly a greater part of their agendas at the international level. Issues of the environment were never, and certainly are not now intangible and unimportant, but must be considered critical to our way of life.

Additionally, at the international level, the inequitable distribution of wealth to climate change contributors, with the harms and risks being felt by regions such as the Caribbean, minimal contributors, also requires a further framework to ensure those harms are accounted for.

Returning now to Dominica. I am heartened by the relatively strong regional approach,  which demonstrates the utility and strength of CARICOM beyond the narrow confines of the Single Market and Economy, into areas of functional cooperation. Efforts to assist Dominica have been increasing in number over the last week.

The University of the West Indies is sending a team of experts to “provide technical disaster management support”. Banks pledged approximately $36,000 to the effort. Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit recently thanked Barbados for its support,  which has included a group of Barbadian police officers heading to Dominica to fortify forces there, and the use of the HMBS Trident which was used in search and rescue efforts.

This is the chance for civil society partners to join together and continue to lend a hand. The ultimate marker of neighbourliness is a willingness to share what little one has with someone in need. It will take the effort of good-hearted individuals and groups across the region to continue to respond in ways that are creative, tangible and consistent.

This is the time for Barbados to exhibit leadership, not only in its own affairs but in its role as CARICOM chair. That would be us fulfilling the commitment of doing all we can.

Barbados has the ability to exhibit leadership in the hurricane relief efforts as Barbados’ Prime Minister is the current chairman of CARICOM. The visuals of Prime Minister Kenny Anthony in Dominca reassured me that we going to stand shoulder to shoulder with our neighbours in their rebuilding efforts. I would be a great deal more confident if Mr Stuart also visited Dominica.

While the physical presence of a singular individual in the form of the Prime Minister being there may seem insignificant to some, leadership at times must not only be done,
but seen to be done.

Let us as a region get on board to provide what we can, following the well-coordinated and documented needs which the Dominican government has been efficient in communicating. We can and must be our brother’s and sister’s keeper.

The ultimate barometer for whether we care about the events in Dominica is not singularly whether we seek to assist, and we must, but rather whether we simultaneously and holistically ready ourselves for such an eventuality.

(Andwele Boyce is a young communicatorwho is passionate about politicsand popular culture.He holds a Master’s in international trade.)

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